Collecting Creative Inspiration from Nevada’s Natural Beauty

A collection of items from the Great Basin National Park residency.
Hannah Alfaro

Professor Mark Maynard had a busy summer, completing two artist-in-residency programs in iconic Nevada locations to work on writing projects inspired by his surroundings. Although you may think of visual artists when hearing about artist-in-residency programs, Maynard took on the challenge to share his insights through the literary arts, which resulted in a unique body of work that’s just getting started.

In addition to teaching English at TMCC, Maynard has an impressive portfolio of written work. His collection of short stories—“Grind”—was the Nevada Reads Book selection, and he is the recipient of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award. And while he is currently enrolled in the Masters of Journalism program at the University of Nevada, Reno, Maynard hopes the work that began in these two residencies will cultivate in a collection of stories representing these Nevada settings.

Exploring Great Basin National Park

Maynard’s first residency took place in Great Basin National Park. Located in eastern Nevada, the park boasts soaring summits, ancient bristlecone pines, dark skies, and deep caves. Having just completed its second year, the Great Basin National Park Foundation - University of Nevada, Reno Artist-in-Residence Program is open to artists living in the Nevada/Utah Great Basin region. For two to four weeks, an artist is invited to the park to take inspiration from the natural beauty and remote location while creating pieces to share with the public.

While a lot of his time was spent writing, Maynard also seized the opportunity to explore the park while taking a break from the bustle of daily life. With no electricity and limited cell service, this was the perfect opportunity for Maynard to dedicate ample time and energy into his work. This included writing on a manual typewriter, which produced drafts of essays and fiction pieces that he hopes to continue developing.

“For a lot of my time there, it felt like it was just me and the rangers,” Maynard said. “I was able to explore more of the park than a lot of people have the chance to. During many of the hikes, I was the only person on the trail, which was really conducive to getting inspiration for writing ideas.”

Although the park offers solitude, the program required a public presentation so that artists could share their work with park visitors. Setting up in the amphitheater at the visitor’s center, Maynard led a workshop with visitors that let them stretch their creative juices during a writing exercise inspired by the nature in the park.

During his workshop—titled “How to Take Pictures like a Nature Writer”—Maynard encouraged participants to put their phones and cameras down in order to observe their surroundings more deeply and be more selective when it came to taking photos. After basking in the environment around them, participants then wrote a caption for a picture they intentionally took.

“This was a new exercise that I was able to develop in the park,” Maynard explained. “There was a lot of good feedback, and I’m still getting notes and photos from some of the attendees. I think it would be a great exercise to continue to use in my classes.”  

Gearing up to teach a full course load in the fall, including creative writing, fiction writing, and journalism, Maynard found the time to complete another residency, this time in the Black Rock Desert.

Getting Inspired by the Black Rock

Friends of the Black Rock High Rock has been working with the Bureau of Land Management since 2014 to host an artist-in-residence program to promote awareness of the arts through exceptional places within National Conservation Lands. This experience gives artists the opportunity to learn about the value of preserving public lands in the Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area while engaging and informing others.

While here to continue writing, Maynard’s experience in the Black Rock Desert was less about solitude and more focused on getting to know the people working and living there. Stationed in Gerlach, a town famous for being the gateway to Burning Man, Maynard worked with employees and volunteers of Friends of the Black Rock High Rock who knew the area completely. In an environment as rough and remote as the desert, their guidance and help was vital.

“During this residency, someone was with me every day to take me out into the desert and explore different areas,” Maynard said. “There were so many places that I never even knew existed, so it was amazing exploring with people who knew those places well.”

After exploring the desert during the day, Maynard got to know town locals at night. With its proximity to Burning Man, Gerlach hosts both long-time locals and visitors just passing through. As a writer who enjoys creating stories that are character driven, the eclectic mix of people was the perfect inspiration for new work.

“I’d be out in the desert doing nature nonfiction writing during the day, and at night I’d be in the town bars meeting all these new people,” Maynard said. “I’d only been up there five or six days, and I was getting invited to a woman’s 90th birthday at the community center.” 

In between writing, exploring, and getting to know the locals, Maynard had the opportunity to volunteer with Friends of Black Rock High Rock on a few projects, including restoration for National Public Lands Day and guiding a tour of Fly Ranch, a 3,800 acre ranch home to Fly Geyser. During his last weekend, he helped set up a Chronolog, a system used to create crowd-sourced time lapses that help monitor the environment. After helping to install the post, guests can now take photos and submit them, which you can see on their website.

Sharing His Work

After a whole summer spent getting to know Nevada’s environments while recording it all on a typewriter, Maynard is gearing up for a few different showings of his work.

On Oct. 27, the McKinley Arts and Culture Center will host an Artist in Residence Reception from 5–7 p.m. for the 2022 artists to show off what they accomplished during their program. Maynard is also planning a public event for the Great Basin residency in the spring.

“I was actually a runner-up for both of these programs last year, but I’m so glad that I was encouraged to reapply,” Maynard said. “It was a really productive summer, and I’m happy I was able to participate in both programs. One helped generate a lot of ideas, and the other allowed me invaluable time to write.”  

Back in Reno, Maynard is sharing these experiences with TMCC students, using the skills and techniques developed during these residencies to help new creative writers develop their own work. For information about English courses offered at TMCC, contact the English department at 775-673-7092.